| POLITICS |Politis



If history has proven anything, both in Cyprus and around the world, it is that the people are not always the champions of what is right. The majority is not always right. Nor does it unfailingly serve the common good. In a problematic situation, the people are part of the problem.

Of all the things that Nicos Anastasiades said on the [television] programme “Choris Peristrofes”, the most disturbing was the invocation of the people in response to the question of how the stain left behind by corruption can be cleaned up. “The issue being raised was tested during the parliamentary elections of May 2021, and the fallout affected not the accused but the accusers themselves,” he said, pointing to the results of the parliamentary elections as proof that what is being attributed to him is not true.

This was not the first time that politicians have sought impunity in the name of the people. The thinking is that by invoking the people’s choices (or the results of an election), they are exempt from having to respond to the charges against them. Equally, it is not the first time that it has been suggested that it is the people and their choices that determine what is right and what is wrong. That the will of the people and wisdom are one and the same. On the other hand, it is a premise that is being adopted increasingly by the entirety of the political establishment, and is being applauded by society. When reasonable questions are put to candidates or politicians, the response is that “the people know best” or “the people will judge for themselves”. This is what Marinos Moushiouttas [Democratic Alignment (DIPA) representative] said when asked how Nikos Christodoulides will manage to find a balance between such contradictory positions, while on the same channel a little while earlier, Marinos Sizopoulos [Socialist party (EDEK) leader] was listing what the next President should do, even though this list was in direct contradiction with what the candidate [Christodoulides] is publicly advocating. This was also how Nikos Christodoulides implicitly responded when the fake profiles issue was raised. [Translator’s note: reference to allegation that Christodoulides had set up fake profiles on social media to slam opponents and critics] That the people are able to judge and know what’s best. This is also what DISY [Democratic Rally] was suggesting was behind its rising percentages and electoral victories.

But how can such an invocation be accepted so lightly? Who are these people that are able ‘to judge’? Are they the people who support Nikos Christodoulides owing to his conservative profile or are they the ones who support him owing to his social liberalism? Are they the ones who support Averof Neophytou because of his liberal positions or the ones who do so because of his absolute identification with Nicos Nouris on the migration issue? Are they those who prefer Andreas Mavroyiannis because he will solve the Cyprus problem or those who support him because he would still vote ‘No’ [in the Annan Plan], even today? When do people display this glorious popular wisdom? Is it when, as in every poll, 80% of the people say that there should be a change of government, or when, in the exact same polls, over 65% reportedly support one of the two candidates who are fighting over who is most closely associated with Nicos Anastasiades? And what does ‘they know best’ mean? Is it possible for them to know best but to sometimes vote in a way that turns out to be catastrophic? To elect politicians who are corrupt or crooked?

The people are not a homogeneous entity, nor do they remain fixed in one view, and their will is influenced by various factors: such as access to information. Unequal or unfair coverage, as well as control over the media, lead to misinformation, which in turn distorts intentions. But even when intentions are good, it is sometimes judgment that turns out to be wrong, because some people do not take the time to inform themselves properly, or because they often become prey to the most dangerous populism. When Hitler was elected, it was not because of the undisputed wisdom of the people, but because of his ability to spellbind German citizens by tapping into their most extreme instincts. The same was true 80 years later, when the Greeks elevated Golden Dawn to the third most powerful party.

Obviously the will of the people is and should be respected. Otherwise we would end up in much stickier situations. But for it to be invoked as a permanent authority on what is right is not only wrong, it is also problematic. Firstly, because accountability cannot be limited to elections (that take place every five years). And secondly, because the acceptance of such a rationale also entails an acceptance of the idea that once a politician is elected, he or she has the legitimacy to act as they wish. And so, while in theory such a statement highlights the importance of democracy (putting the will of the people at the centre), this invocation dismantles all the principles and values on which it is built, the conditions necessary for it to function: accountability, transparency, control.

If history has taught us anything, both in Cyprus and across the world, it is that the public is not always the defender of what is right. The majority is not always right. Nor does it unfailingly serve the common good. In a problematic situation, the people are part of the problem. Precisely because they are part of the functioning of democracy. Sometimes they become prey to the particular interests and propaganda of political leaders, sometimes the people themselves lead politicians to behave in ways that are not in the best interests of the country. The development of the Cyprus issue, corruption, the image projected by the system, is the image of the people.

Assertions that proclaim the infallibility of the people’s judgement (which obviously have ulterior motives at their core) undermine logic, choke off public discourse, and constitute a challenge to democracy. And when they are so effortlessly embraced by society, we reach a point where we see politicians appearing to be above scrutiny and a President invoking elections that do not even directly concern him, in order to respond to allegations of corruption. The people (whoever they may be) become the authority on legitimacy as well. And this is not only an oxymoron, it is also very dangerous.


Antonis Polydorou studied Political Sciences and Sociology at the University of Essex and completed his Master’s degree in Economics at the University of Bath. He has contributed in a number of studies as an associate with the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the European Institute of Cyprus, mainly on European Union foreign policy and security issues and the rise of the far-right movement in Europe. For the past 10 years he has been a columnist at the newspaper Politis.

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